I had a very direct manager once. He said, “If you aren’t happy, get happy. That’s on you, Mish.” It seems like such an easy statement: get happy. We throw terms like “find joy” and “be happy” around like confetti (which arguably is exactly how joy and happiness should be thrown around, like confetti). But sometimes finding joy doesn’t feel easy. And it doesn’t feel completely on me with so many external factors at play. During these times of uncertainty, teachers are bearing large burdens triggered by things outside of their control. In my role as the manager of our INCubatoredu and ACCELeratoredu high school entrepreneurship programs, it is critical for me to have a pulse on teachers' dynamic needs and practice what we teach: customer empathy. A current need: finding joy and happiness.
Teaching high school entrepreneurship, especially an experiential course like INCubatoredu or ACCELeratoredu, takes time and energy. Does the investment return joy? For those of us windowing in, such as administrators, community members, and parents, it might be easy to say yes. But for those experiencing the day-in-day-out, is there joy in teaching entrepreneurship in high school?
Kurt Wismer is a teacher at Horace Mann High School in North Fond du Lac, WI. He’s been a part of the Uncharted Learning family for five years, teaching entrepreneurship for high school students, through INCubatoredu and ACCELeratoredu, and is a major contributor to our professional learning community. Kurt’s school has been getting some (joyful) press lately. Commah, one of his INCubatoredu teams, won funding at a regional pitch and is a finalist in a state competition. While this is exciting at the moment, does it bring lasting joy? We asked Kurt about teaching these courses when we spoke with him a couple of years ago, and again recently. Here’s what he had to say.
Rich Experiences, Better Teaching
The entrepreneurship journey is meant to be transformative and empowering for students, and for teachers—but is it? With more than 20 years of business & marketing education under his belt, Wismer knows a thing or two about high school students and teaching…Kurt said, “Entrepreneurship certainly takes time and energy to do it well…but it is by far the most rewarding of my courses. Teaching these courses forces me to always be on my game and model the same passion, dedication, and willingness to fail that I expect of my students.” Kurt went on to explain the difference between this and other classes and shared…“I love that there are no wrong answers, just better ones.”
Kurt is part of the INCPro team, a teacher mentorship program where experienced INCubatoredu teachers sign up to support newer INCubatoredu teachers. Kurt said, “The experience as an INCPro is really about the ability to impact more students. If given the opportunity to work with more schools and teachers to support their path to offering courses and experiences in entrepreneurship, I'll certainly take that path! It's said that a rising tide raises all ships, and this is very true for this. If we can impact more students and build an entrepreneurial culture in our schools and communities, then those benefits (rising tide) can certainly be realized.”
Fueled by Student Success
“The best part is seeing the students be successful in their work”, Kurt said. Students experience notable growth during these year-long courses. Not only in skill building in business and entrepreneur tools, but soft skills, which Kurt calls the “secret sauce of this curriculum.”
The course structure and grounding methodology, the lean startup method, “pushes students through collaboration, resilience, and communication. Students are forced to work together in teams, problem solve, build and leverage networks of learning and support, present, answer tough questions, and push through the unknown.”
Success can also be about traction with their startups. Kurt shared, “When students win pitch events and get financial funding, it’s a fun day—for example, Commah and their recent win. That makes for great press and validation to other students.”
What’s unique about this teaching experience is that often students launch and scale their businesses post-graduation. Teachers like Kurt gain the satisfaction of watching this success unfold. He’s able to spotlight these real-world, meaningful achievements to students starting the class. Kurt shared, “One of my former students went on to study entrepreneurship at the University of Milwaukee-Wisconsin. The business she started in my high school class continued for her in college. She won enough money from pitch events to put herself through school and pay for her tuition. Her story and others like it remind me why I do what I do.”
Positive Connections with Community
Students benefit from the collective energy and expertise of a diverse instructional team. The classroom teacher is trained to lead this course and is supported by volunteers in the community. The benefit is a deeper, real-world experience for the student, along with support to the teacher. It’s a natural opportunity to integrate students and schools with the local economy in a positive way, and these partnerships are good for both the school and the community.
Most importantly, when parents and the community are engaged with the school, the conversation about education is usually positive and supportive. “I was pleasantly surprised by the rally of the community behind my classes and their support for entrepreneurship education in our school. I knew that the community would be supportive, but the extent to which the business community supported, contributed, and guided our venture is truly inspiring," Kurt said.
“It’s had a dramatically positive impact on me as a teacher, the students I serve, and the parents are generally thrilled with what their students accomplish.”
~ Kurt Wismer, Teacher
Curriculum That Lets Me Focus on Student Learning
There’s no shortage of distractions and increased demands on educators’ time these days, while the need for engaging, high-impact curriculum is everpresent. Uncharted Learning curriculum and resources free teachers up from crafting lesson plans, giving them time to interact, instruct, lead, and motivate their students. Support is not only provided by Uncharted Learning but is a part of the UL culture. Kurt said, “There are a ton of opportunities for new and experienced teachers and program supporters alike to find help, get answers, and learn from each other. The network is strong in this group as are the opportunities to connect and learn.”
Fun Professional Development..What?
Each summer, Uncharted Learning hosts professional development for members. We’ve been told by teachers that this three-day event is ‘professional development that we actually look forward to!’ Why is this? Because it is more than PD, it's a reunion of friends and colleagues. It's a celebration. It's community.
The great thing about Summit is that not only do teachers leave with new tools in their teacher toolkit, they leave with new friends and colleagues who enrich their professional learning community. Teachers stay connected via Slack after the Summit and collaborate with entrepreneurship educators across the country and even the world. The learning doesn’t end when the conference does.
Kurt agrees! “The summit is an excellent opportunity to learn and network with fellow INCubatoredu teachers, hear inspiring speakers, and take part in immersive curriculum training. Beyond that, I formed a network of fellow teachers over 5 years—we communicate often and look forward to reconvening annually. It's a great atmosphere for learning, support, and relationship building, plus it’s a ton of fun."
So Much to Love About Teaching Entrepreneurship in High School
Teachers like Kurt Wismer work hard to bring purpose to learning, and during a time of stress and, ambiguity, are true heros. Kurt has the attitude that entrepreneurship is needed more important than ever. “If anything, the pandemic reinforced the need for this course for what it provides students.”
Student success and outcomes are what we aim for with our programs. Knowing this program can bring satisfaction and even ‘joy’ to teaching fuels us to work harder.